Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Matter What, Don't Listen to Me!

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Po...(Image via Wikipedia)
There is an analogy that strikes me as being particularly representative of what it is like to fight OCD in the moment, and sometimes I have to remind myself of this analogy before I begin something that I know will catch OCD's attention and lure it in.  For lack of a less nerdy reference, this analogy involves a scene from the 6th Harry Potter movie (and maybe the book, too, I just haven't read that far in the series, so I wouldn't know if it happens the same way in the original).   Though it is probably a common movie scenario, the Harry Potter version is just the one that comes to mind.

If you have read Harry Potter, you will probably know what I am talking about better than I do.  Forgive me for any inaccuracies.  If you haven't, well, like I said, I think it's probably a common theme. The scene to which I am referring is one in which Harry Potter has accompanied headmaster Dumbledore on a mission to retrieve an object of particular importance, a locket, which happens to be one of the so-called Hocruxes (goodness I feel terribly nerdy!!! sorry!!).  Anyways, to reach said locket, a number of difficulties must be overcome, the last of which is to drink a sort of mysterious liquid potion from a basin, at the bottom of which lies the desired locket.  Before beginning to drink the potion, Dumbledore warns Harry that no matter what, he must make sure the headmaster drinks all of the liquid.  Even if Dumbledore begs to stop drinking, even if he indeed cries for mercy, Harry is to ensure that Dumbledore continues until all the liquid is gone.

So what on earth does any of this have to do with OCD?  Well, I sometimes feel like I am Dumbledore in this scene, when I am fighting the urge to perform compulsions.  Under the strain of anxiety, the disorder can hijack the mind in a way that is sometimes hard to appreciate when calm and relaxed.  It is easy to say, when not in the moment, "Yes, I will make myself stop washing after x amount of time."  "No, I will lot let myself start over."  "No matter what, I will not engage in this compulsion." Etc. Etc. Etc.  But when that moment comes and the strong, almost magnetic-like desire to make things "feel right," to perform the compulsion that will bring the illusion of safety or certainty, takes over, it is not so easy to stick to the original goals made beforehand.

These are the times when I really feel like I could use my own metaphorical Harry, an outside force unaltered by the intoxicating potion of OCD to force me to move on, no matter how I beg, no matter what new justifications for compulsive behavior OCD fabricates.  In the moment it can be truly hard to believe that there is any way out but the compulsive way, and I feel like I need someone or something not under the influence of OCD to stop me.

But because I don't have a Harry, I try to create my own sort of safety net to ensure that I follow through and do what needs to be done.  In situations where I know I am likely to find myself under the spell of OCD, I try to remind myself beforehand, that no matter what that sneaky voice inside my head comes up with this time, I must not listen.  I must stick to the plan devised while my rational mind was still active, before it was overcome by the overwhelming trance of anxiety and the desire to succumb to compulsive habit.  It's almost as if, if I brace myself for what I know is coming, I can sometimes remember, even when the urge is at its strongest, to resist performing compulsions.

This is certainly not a foolproof method.  All too often, that logical voice gets drowned out by the false promises of OCD:

"Come on.  This time is different.  This is not the situation you expected.  You have to do the compulsion now.  Really, this time is different.  This time it's not just OCD and it really matters."

In the moment of anxiety the lies can seem like truth, and the truth like lies.  It all gets turned around as doubt clouds all sense of reason.  But if I remind myself enough, sometimes that memory - that knowledge that, no matter what, I should not give in - breaks through the muddled storm of confused thought.  Sometimes I can grab ahold of that reminder and pull myself through to the other side.  Sometimes, I can in fact, be my own guardian, my own Harry.  But like most things related to recovery, it is a learning process, and the more I practice, the better I get.

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